Identifying Aboriginal Hearths in Late Quaternary Northwest Victoria: An Experimental Study to Replicate the Production of ‘Clay Ball’ and Calcium Nodule Heat Retainers

23rd November 2014

The Late Quaternary cultural record of northwest Victoria consists of a very rich and diverse archaeological assemblage. One component of this landscape is isolated heat retainers and hearths utilised by Aboriginal people to cook a variety of foods. In the absence of suitable heat retainers it is assumed that clay and carbonate nodules were used. Recent surveys at Neds Corner Station and the adjacent Murray-Sunset National Park, as part of an AR C-funded project, highlighted the difficulty in distinguishing between culturally and naturally fired clay. During fieldwork, when weather conditions interrupted surveying, student volunteers undertook firing experiments using different mediums and heating conditions in order to try and replicate what had been seen in the field. This poster presents the results from these four experiments which form the basis of ongoing research. The fired clay produced during these experiments was then compared with the natural, anthropogenic and ambiguous baked clay that had been observed in the field. Ethnographic and previous experimental studies are also compared to these recent experiments. This also helps to distinguish between Aboriginal heat-retainer hearths, and ‘pseudo-hearths’, which result from lightning strikes and bushfire. While further studies are required, these preliminary experiments provide a baseline to which the archaeological record can be compared, and have important implications for future research and cultural heritage management in this region.

Citation for this poster:

Silvester, C., E. Dillon, S. Lombardo, A. Valka, A. Romano, A. Dinckal, A. Blackwood, M. Campanelli, J. Clarke, D. Clark, A. Dall’Oste, D. Perry and J. Garvey 2014 Identifying Aboriginal Hearths in Late Quaternary Northwest Victoria: An Experimental Study to Replicate the Production of ‘Clay Ball’ and Calcium Nodule Heat Retainers. Poster Presented at the AAA/ASHA Annual Conference, 1-3 December, Cairns.

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